Sunday, 25 January 2015

With Friends Like These...

If you’re a movie buff like me you’ll have noticed that we’re currently in the middle of awards season, part way between the starter that is the Golden Globes and the main that is the Oscars – luckily this is Hollywood so I don’t have to torture this analogy as far as dessert.

There were lots of highlights at the Globes or what I prefer to call the Amy and Tina Show and many mysteries – not least how Boyhood, or as we call it in our house The Toy Story Trilogy, could win so many awards. One of my favourites, however, was the moment coyly referred to by much of the British press as the ‘F-Bomb Drop’…

I will happily confess to loving Jennifer Aniston – she is in the top 5 of my carefully created “I bet she’d be a laugh out on the lash” celebrity checklist even if most commentators have actually placed her at the top of ‘womb watch’. Here we are, ticking into the twenty-first century and women in the public eye are still scrutinised for that tell-tale baby bump and judged against its appearance/not with a lack of subtlety Catherine of Aragon would have recognised.

Hilary Mantel has written quite brilliantly about Kate Middleton in her Royal Bodies speech and the Jennifer Aniston/George Clooney comparisons by Hadley Freeman give some much-needed context. Sadly one of the worst perpetrators of this type of will she remember to have a baby nonsense is the Femail site operated by the Daily Mail (I am not referencing either on humanitarian grounds) – perhaps the next big petition should be to rid the world of that, it's actually way more offensive than boobs.

But I’m not here solely to rant, I’m also here to recast and it’s impossible to think about the lonely, unhappy, childless, beautiful, incredibly rich and talented Jennifer without humming that theme-tune and wishing for shinier hair so I give you my take on Friends…

I’m leaving the boys out – this is about heroines after all – but they were an integral part of the show and there has been some interesting writing done on how their attitudes (or more correctly the attitudes of the largely male writers) impacted on the portrayal of the women. If you want to know more about a lawsuit which reveals some of the background to the ‘development’ of the male characters, click here - it’s a fascinating read although it may darken some of your rerun enjoyment.

What I don’t think anyone would argue with is the strength of the female relationships and the very real affection, something the Huffington Post have covered nicely in their piece on feminist things in Friends

So let’s see what we can recreate from tenuous links to the past and have a look at the first of our trio – Phoebe Buffay. It's an easy opener – she’d be dead! 

Anyone that 'kooky' prior to the late seventeenth century would surely have been branded as a witch and wouldn’t have made it to the first rendezvous in Ye Olde Central Perk. Phoebe lived on the streets, gave birth to her brother’s kids and sang in a way surely only acceptable for the darkest incantations – if Smelly Cat wasn’t an ode to a familiar, I must be – oh yes, a rational person. So I can’t kill her but she does need to have something of the sorceress about her… like maybe a witch! I could have chosen from the Salem Witch trials or the equally as fascinating Pendle Trials in the UK. Unfortunately, as so many of those trials did, these ones tended to end with a rope and we need a live one so I’m going with Jaquetta Woodville. Along with Eleanor CobhamJacquetta was one of those unfortunate women hit with a charge of witchcraft as part of the political jockeying for position so prevalent in medieval politics – often the wife was an easier target than the husband the charge was really meant to hurt. Jacquetta survived even if her reputation didn't – the fact that she was foolish rather than wicked slots her nicely into my revamped cast.
And then, of course, there’s Monica Geller  - not on my list of people who’d be fun on a night out, not even close to the reserves. Chandler you had my sympathy, I’d have had the whole pack in my mouth…

Competitive, obsessive and controlling – most of the time it seemed like Monica and Ross had been involved in some kind of Freaky Friday accident and swapped bodies.  I might not want her on my table in the pub but I’d definitely want her on my side in a fight and, once I started thinking about female warriors, she became very easy to cast. There are some amazing stories out there, far more than the usual default of Joan of Arc – I’ve added some research to my website  - but the one who best fits the part is the amazing Tamar of Georgia. She ruled the country in the twelfth century from the age of eighteen and seems to have been a powerhouse controlling politics, the military and the country's culture – while raising two kids and ditching a dopey husband. Monica, I literally salute you.

So, last but not least, I’m back to where I came in and it’s time to tackle Rachel Green. Pretty, spoilt, manipulative – I feel a Disney Princess coming on – but also the one of the three that actually gets to evolve, if only in the narrow terms of sit-com. Focusing on the first three adjectives throws up Marie Antoinette or Catherine Howard but they feel like lazy options and I get the feeling that, if they were ever to do a reunion (and please, please don’t), Rachel might just have made something rather stronger of herself. On that basis then, I’m casting Queen Victoriayoung, frivolous and dismissed when she ascended the throne, she became the equal of male politicians and an accidental advocate of gay rights, although that’s a different story. And yes, I am ignoring the imperialistic bits – I’ll blame that on Monica.

Why do women love shows like Friends? Because we understand – female friendship, when you get it right is unbeatable. Just don’t get it wrong…

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